Decoder Ring

“F––k Everything, We’re Doing Five Blades”

The story of how razors came to have so many blades.

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Episode Notes

In the early 2000s, an arms race broke out in the world of men’s shaving. After decades with razors that had only one blade and then decades with razors that had only two, the number of blades rapidly spiraled up and up and up.

It’s a skirmish sometimes referred to as The Razor Blade Wars, and it was a face-off about innovation, competition, capitalism, masculinity, and most of all, how strange things can become after you’ve created something that’s the best a consumer can get — and then you have to keep going.

Some of the voices you’ll hear in this episode include Rebecca Herzig, author of Plucked: A History of Hair Removal; Tim Dowling, Guardian columnist and author of Inventor of the Disposable Culture: King Camp Gillette 1855-1932; Dan Koeppel, razor blade zelig; and Kaitlyn Tiffany, writer for the Atlantic.

If you want to read more about razor blades, check out:

Cutting edge: Gillette’s journey to global leadership
King C. Gillette, the man and his wonderful shaving device
Satisfaction Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market

Decoder Ring is written and produced by Willa Paskin. This episode was produced by Elizabeth Nakano. Derek John is Sr. Supervising Producer of Narrative Podcasts.

If you have any cultural mysteries you want us to decode, email us at DecoderRing@slate.com

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About the Show

In each episode, host Willa Paskin takes a cultural question, object, or habit; examines its history; and tries to figure out what it means and why it matters.

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